Our intrepid food columnist Jan Fullwood explores the delights of Hertford’s eateries and takes a foodie ‘staycation’…
How was your summer? Did you recharge your batteries, try new cuisines, see new places? Travel abroad has been for the most determined only this year with, form filling and costly testing required. So, it’s no wonder so many decided to explore what’s on offer here in the UK. And why not? Our beautiful country has so much to offer, if only good weather could be guaranteed.
With ‘staycations’ increasingly on the agenda, it’s good to know that it’s still possible to visit Italy, Spain, Turkey, Mexico, Japan, Thailand and India – without even leaving home. All thanks to the changing face of Hertford’s restaurant scene.
Hertford’s lockdown restaurant shake-up
Our local restaurants have had quite a shake-up over the last year or so. Chains have been flushed out and replaced by smaller concerns offering quality food. Lussmanns has moved to Ask’s larger premises in Fore Street, Proove has moved into Parliament Square to replace Cafe Rouge, offering wood-fired pizzas.
A couple of enthusiasts who started with a pop-up pizza oven at outdoor events opened two restaurants in Sheffield, one in Manchester, and now this one in the south. It gives Pizza Express a run for its money (the only restaurant chain remaining) and offers gluten-free and vegan options, and Italian small plates – providing something for everyone.
Even the Hummingbird gastro pub has popped back up again, almost as quickly as it disappeared a couple of years ago. Here’s hoping it has better luck second time round in its reincarnation by new owners. With its comprehensive cocktail menu and a revamped menu, I’m pleased to report that it’s back on track.
Sample a taste of Spain at Anexo
The iconic building in Fore street, with its Egyptian facade and Masonic connections that originally housed Lussmanns, is now Anexo. I ate delicious Spanish tapas here, not long after it opened back in July, and was whisked straight back to happy memories of Spanish holidays without even setting foot on a plane.
Owned by the locally based Shipton family, it is an extension of the Hertford House offering; part of their plan to help rejuvenate Hertford’s town centre, particularly when Lockdown left a trail of empty properties.
They have been busy: redecorating the dining area at the hotel, based in the former Mercury building in Parliament Square, to provide a New York-style brasserie, relaxed dining area and cocktail bar. It has long been a favourite of ours for brunch, and the new à la carte menu promises lots more, ‘once the pingdemic is over and the team is stable’.
They have brought in chef consultant Andrew Clarke to develop their menus across the business, with the aim of bringing London style and choice to Hertford. With an impressive CV from 20 years in the business, he seems to have made a great start. It’s been a challenging time, and not everything has gone to plan but the upstairs restaurant at Anexo is a great indication of things to come.
Leave room for churros…
We sampled most of the meat, fish and vegetables on the small but perfectly formed menu when we visited. The Asturian bean and pork belly stew was meltingly tender and the fried courgette flowers took tapas to another level. Beware though – despite being on the vegetable menu they are stuffed with sobrassada, a deliciously spicy cured sausage. But then Spanish tapas isn’t renowned for its vegetarian options, although the classic Spanish tortilla definitely hit the spot, along with a dish of delectable charred leeks served with nutty Romesco sauce.
Make sure you leave room for dessert: as well as the ever popular churros, there are some fabulous flavour combinations combining fresh fruit with moist cake, such as grilled white peaches and almond cake, or chocolate and cherries. Or for those with a less sweet tooth there is always more Manchego to satisfy a craving for Spanish cheese.
The service was impeccable, and the wine list has been selected by sommelier Bert Blaiz, who learnt his craft at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quait’Saisons, proving that bringing staff with the right experience into the mix can make all the difference. I’m keen to go back but you have to get in quick to book a table, it’s proving so popular.
There are also plans for relaxed bar-style eating downstairs serving jamon, cheese and pintxos (a style of tapas offered as small snacks, often served on sticks).
The new Stonehouse deli is also underway, which will occupy the space vacated by Serendipity Café when owner Carly took her business online.
Hole in the Wall gang at Hertford House Hotel
And finally, The Hole in the Wall is a pop-up run by the hotel team, showcasing guest chefs and currently housing Little Wu – Szechuan style food – fulfilling the need for authentic Chinese in Hertford, and definitely on my list to try.
Sadly, as with so many other businesses, these eateries are behind schedule due to so many setbacks and a general lack of staff industry-wide. But they promise exciting things to come, and I for one can’t wait to see Hertford’s food scene rejuvenated, as I work my way around the world, no passport required.